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Data from wearable devices could soon land you in jail

Lucas Mearian | Dec. 9, 2014
Health privacy laws don't cover your wearable and information it's collecting.

1280px a google glass wearer
While a pending civil litigation case is using data from an activity-tracking Fitbit wristband, more sophistocated wearables such as Google Glass have the potential to offer a tremendous amount of data for court cases.Credit: Wikipedia Commons

While that fitness band or smartwatch you own may help you get in shape or never miss an appointment, the data it collects is now also fodder for criminal or civil litigation.

In what's thought to be a first-of-its-kind civil lawsuit, a personal injury lawyer in Canada used data from a Fitbit wristband in an insurance fraud case to support his client's claims.

Previously, insurance civil suits relied on physician examinations and not historical data collected from a wearable.

Simon Muller, a partner in the Personal Injury Group of McLeod Law in Calgary, Alberta pushed his client's Fitbit data through an analytics platform from Vivametrica, a startup company. Vivametrica's Functional Activity Assessment tool compares activity data against that of the general population, offering a way to benchmark the results. (Muller's client voluntarily shared several months of Fitbit data with Vivametrica so  it could be compared with data from other Fitbit users. His client, a former personal trainer, had been in an accident that affected her ability to work; the data was used to back up her claim.)

Cloud aggregation services for wearable data
Rick Hu, an orthopedic surgeon and CEO of Vivametrica, said the analytics software can currently only be used with activity trackers, but the company is in the process of expanding it to work with other wearable devices.

"One of the shortcomings right now is that each of the device manufacturers collects their own information," Hu said. "So it's hard to compare that data with other people's data who are not using that particular device. There is no standardization in terms of the activity data."

The company hopes to collect data using APIs from multiple wearable brands and anonymize it for research purposes.

Vivametrica's software will also be able to use APIs from health tracking platforms such as Google Fit, Apple HealthKit, Samsung Sammy and Microsoft HealthVault to aggregate data from wearable devices for comparison.

With that in mind, Hu sees the day coming when prosecutors and defense attorneys alike could use data collected from wearable devices.

"I think there are many hurdles to make it routine," he said. "But in my discussions with legal colleagues...they're quite willing to do this. I think it's better to have an open discussion...rather than have a serendipitous kind of surveillance and all of a sudden you realize your entire day has been charted on someone's computer, like Uber for instance."

 

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